How To Use Your Bible

How To Use Your Bible

The bible is the word of God. It is ancient and yet immensely relevant to our lives. Yet we often struggle to get from the pages of scripture to the reality of everyday life in a way that impacts us and transforms according to the gospel power the scripture promises.

One way to work through this process is to utilize a three-layer approach to the text of determining the original meaning of a text – what the original author intended it to mean to the original recipients; the ultimate meaning of a text – how it is fulfilled and completed by the finished work of Jesus; and the promissory meaning – what point of contact it then has in our lives at any given point in our experience. Without all three of these layers we will either discern scripture to be 1) merely historical with no bearing on our lives, 2) merely spiritualized to point out fascinating connections to Jesus with no connection to God’s bigger redemptive story, and 3) merely personalized and moralized for each individual’s interpretation with no gospel freedom nor power.

In Mark 12, Jesus quotes Psalm 118 and references himself as the stone that the builders rejected – a bit of a dig to the Sanhedrin, the builders who tossed out the most critically important stone of the building, only to have God use it as the Cornerstone.

This passage in Mark 12 quoting Psalm 118 is a great example for us to see how the bible utilizes 3 layers of meaning: original, ultimate, and promissory. In other words: what did the psalmist mean when it was originally written (original meaning), how is it ultimately fulfilled in Jesus (ultimate meaning), and then, how does it impact our lives today (promissory meaning)?

Originally, Psalm 118 was written by the king of Israel who was under constant attack from other nations. All through the psalm the author glories in the saving love of God. Verses 6-7 read, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.” When we get to verses 22-23, which Jesus quotes in Mark 12 and is quoted by Peter in other passages of the New Testament, we must ask, “Why did the author write this?” You see, there’s nothing in the psalm to indicate that the author was aware he was penning a Messianic promise. He was simply rejoicing that though he had been rejected by the people and other nations, God graciously chose for him to be a king – a cornerstone – for God’s people. Grace and kindness and steadfast love cause the psalmist to marvel at God’s act and he rejoices in the Lord.

Ultimately, we see in the New Testament that it was JESUS, not the king of Psalm 118, who is the final and true rejected Stone that becomes the Cornerstone. Mark 12 and 1 Peter 2:6-7 confirms this. Jesus is the true and final King of the true and final Israel – those who have faith in Him. Though He was rejected by the world and crucified, He is the One around whom life is to be built.

The ultimate fulfillment of Christ as the cornerstone does not toss out Psalm 118’s original meaning; it is simply seen for what it is – a shadow of what is to come that leads our hearts to Christ and what he endured on our behalf.

The meaning of this passage extends beyond the original and ultimate meaning to its promissory meaning. That is, we must ask, “In light of the ultimate meaning, how am I implicated? How and where does this show up in my life?”

Gripped by the certainty of ultimate meaning – that Jesus is the Cornerstone that was rejected by God himself on our behalf so we could be accepted by God – we can identify with Christ when we are rejected by the world. The Gentile nations were rejected by Israel though God desired our inclusion. Now – a stone that was rejected (us, the Gentile nations) are the core of the New Israel, the church of Jesus Christ. When we experience rejection by anyone, we can rest assured in Jesus that by faith, we are not rejected by God. In fact – grace upon grace – we are given a place of honor as His beloved people, and used to advance His kingdom.

In sum, Psalm 118 can now be understood in light of its three meanings:

Original Meaning: Psalmist/King was rejected by those around him but God, by grace, established him.

Ultimate Meaning: Jesus was rejected by the world for being God and by the Father for bearing our sin. Therefore God exalted him to the highest honor: Lord & Savior to be worshiped.

Promissory Meaning: By faith in Jesus, regardless of rejection, we have been given a place of honor as God’s beloved children. Jesus was the Chief Cornerstone rejected and honored, and we are bricks that though worthy of rejection, we are honored by grace to be part of the building; his people.

That, my friends, is really good news.

Enjoy the story…

Life in This Great City

Deep in the soil, buried under 175 years of amber waves of grain, rows of sweet onions, and acres of gnarly vineyards lies a seed that has yet been fully cultivated into a garden of delight, bearing fruit that is quite literally a matter of life and death.  This seed is the gospel of Jesus.

In the autumn of 1836, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman crossed the Rocky Mountains and settled in this verdant region to bring the good news of Jesus to those who called this valley home .  Tragically, they along with many others, were martyred for their devotion to Jesus.  The seed of the gospel was fertilized by the blood of the saints.

Like an abandoned vineyard, there are still a few churches in Walla Walla that are bearing the Lords fruit like stubborn vines in a hostile ground.  And so one of the passions of my heart and commitments of Mission Church is to do what we can to revitalize a sense of teamwork within the church community to see Jesus made much of together.  I was move by the words of Psalm 107:35-38,

“He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.
And there he lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in;
They sow fields and plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield.
By His blessing they multiply greatly…”

God loves this great city of Walla Walla. Not because it’s inherently great, but because His grace is great.  Through the redeeming work of Jesus, the abandoned vineyard will once again bear fruit that will reflect the glory of God’s grace and bring unfathomable joy to His people.

The Story continues…

Holding On and Letting Go

Through all preparation to move to Walla Walla, the Lord has graciously been reminding me of an often overlooked, but invaluable aspect of the gospel – the hope of an infinitely better someday.  I at times find myself sighing and thinking, “I certainly didn’t expect to be in this situation at 41 years old.”  I expected a bit more…hmmm…what’s the word?  Ah…Stability!  Then I realized how frail such a hope is.  It’s got no anchor, no reason to be unshakable.  So here are a few thoughts (free of charge, of course, but donations are welcome) about what to hold to while letting go.

1)   It’s just stuff.  Stuff is valuable to us because of what we connect or associate with it.  Each and every item we have has memories and relationship value connected to it making our things incredibly valuable.  However, when we allow our stuff to be the sign of our worth and personal value, they become impossible to let go.  But when you have to let the stuff go, you don’t have to let go of the memories, and that’s good news.  And if you feel like you’re lost and worthless without your stuff – it’s no longer valuable, but destructive. 

2)   It’s thank-worthy. I just made up that word.  Christianity is not about self-abasement and denying all things material.  Nor is it about hedonistic indulgence in material things in the quest for self-worth.  Giving thanks to Jesus for our stuff is assumes He is the Giver and so safeguards us from a false sense of ownership.  Giving thanks also assumes we are undeserving and therefore recipients of grace instead of feeling entitled.  Giving thanks frees us to enjoy all He gives as worship.

3)   It will all be surpassed.  Jesus is the gracious giver of all good things – even our stuff.  Not so that we wallow in his gifts, but that we have assurance that what is temporary and good will be surpassed by what is eternal and better.  Colossians 2 says that all the good things we are given (food, drink, parties, friends, etc.) are shadows and the substance is Jesus.  As we hold onto this hope, we are able to let go of our stuff without fear, knowing that Jesus never leaves us wanting when what we most want is Him.

What to Remember at Closing Time

After 7 years of pastoring my church plant in South King County (Kent to be specific) we had to shut down, close, disband, whatever you want to call it; it ended, and it sucked.  Now, there was a myriad of variables that led to the painful decision and even more lessons of “what I’d do differently” but those are for another time.  In the days leading up to and following the painful decision to end Redemption Church, a thousand diabolical whispers assaulted my heart, for our enemy is an opportunistic saboteur.  Something as meaningless as burning toast in the morning became an accusation of incompetence and irresponsibility.  As CS Lewis says, Christianity is more about being reminded than instructed. Graciously, it has been the Holy Spirit’s reminders of the gospel that continue to refresh my tired and wounded soul after I effectively euthanized our church in the fall of 2011.

  1. Remember, the Church is not a partnership, nor a corporation, nor a democracy.  The Church is a sole proprietorship. Jesus owns it. When I’m tempted to fear what other people, even other pastors, may think of ME after a church closure, it demonstrates my belief that my name was on the line.  Over and over in the New Testament we read that Jesus makes unequivocal and exclusive claims of ownership of his church – it is HIS name on the line.Planting and pastoring a church requires a great deal of personal investment.  Money, time, energy, everything.  A man must be “all in” when he says yes to God’s call. You can see how this can become a dangerous delusion of co-ownership.  That certainly happened with me and was the cause of a ton of anxiety.  No one, and I mean NO ONE, is more “all-in” than God.
  2. Remember, God is sovereign over both growth and death.
    Ugh…this one stings.  We all know of growing churches that have a completely dysfunctional theology.  And yet…they continue to win souls.  We praise God for that.  Shouldn’t we also praise God when, despite the faithful preaching of the gospel and the endeavor to love one another accordingly does NOT result in a growing church?  This is a call to consistent believing: if we’re committed to give God glory when things are good, we must have the integrity to give him glory when things aren’t good.  As we often sing, “He gives and takes away…blessed be His name.”
  3. Remember, success and failure are matters of faithfulness.
    We all KNOW it, but will constantly struggle to believe it: don’t measure success by results.  Look instead at your heart.  Are you being faithful with who the Lord has created and called you to be and what he’s called you to do? Remember Jesus’ parable of the talents: reward was given for faithful stewardship, not bottom line comparisons. If we miss this, I fear we will start believing that we possess the persuasive power to save souls and effectively sideline the Holy Spirit.  Learn from the farmer: put the good seed in the ground and do what is yours to do to bring about growth. Be faithful…that’s the essence of success for us as pastors.
  4. Remember, I’m being sanctified too.
    Being elders/pastors/planters is one of the best places to escape the sanctifying work of the Spirit.  Shoot, we’re the ones preaching the sermons, drawing up the discipleship plans, reading the books, prayerfully interceding for people, counseling and encouraging.  Aren’t we agents of sanctification?  Yes…and everyone else is an agent for you.  Just because we’re leading the church, we’re still PART OF the church and under the same reconstruction plan of God.  I fear we get told so often that we are shepherds that we have slipped into the delusion that we are no longer sheep! And as soon as that happens, we make Jesus our peer instead of our Sovereign.

If the church you lead shuts down, it’ll be sad…very sad.  You’ll be hard pressed, you’ll be perplexed, you’ll be persecuted, you’ll be struck down.  The good news is, however, that no matter what – you won’t be crushed; you won’t be driven to despair; you won’t be abandoned; you won’t be destroyed. Do you know why? Because the Church belongs to Jesus. Because God is sovereign in both life and death. Because success is measured by your faithfulness. And because Jesus will crack your clay-pot-life in order to show off His glory.  The grace just never ends…and the Story continues.

Wheat, Wine, & Walla Walla

Well, we’re off on a new adventure.  The Hopes are heading to Walla Walla, Washington. Perhaps one of the nicest places around, certainly the funnest to say over and over, really quickly (try it, you’ll see…no, out loud.)

God has called me to plant a church in this beautiful and sophisticated town in the Southeast corner of our fair state. And as I pondered this new calling, the city, and the gospel which allures me I had a bit of an epiphany.

Walla Walla has a thriving agricultural economy with two predominant crops: wheat and grapes .  And do you know what comes from these?  That’s right, bread & wine.  Yup, the two basic elements that comprise the communion meal, or the Lord’s Supper.  It was in the upper room with his disciples that Jesus renovated the historic Passover meal to commemorate, not just the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, but the deliverance of all who trust in him from a much more oppressive Slave-Master.

So as I look out on the miles of rolling wheat fields and the acres of vineyards surrounding Walla Walla I can’t help but think of the body and blood of Jesus broken and spilled for the 50,000+ people of that valley, most of whom have no idea of such a grace.  Where wheat and wine grapes grow in abundance, it only seems appropriate that Christ’s church would grow also.

Walla Walla also has world-class sweet onions, but we won’t be serving those at communion.  That’d be gross.

Keep savoring the story…